I am a privileged person. My entire life, I have been provided with economic, educational, familial and other forms of social security. Even if I did not want them, they were available should I change my mind. I was not always aware of the ways in which I was privileged and at a certain point, I would have argued that I was not. You see, when you’re a light skinned, educated person belonging to a certain race or class, doors will inevitably open for you. Due to the ease with which I could have moved through certain spaces, I assumed the same opportunities afforded to me were the same ones afforded to everyone else.
Plagued with a violent history of the commoditization of black bodies and the willful separation and breeding of mistrust between the races by colonizers, the Guyanese experience and its politics has always been firmly rooted in race and oppression. We have sought many ways in which to address our problems with race. The one thing we have not put enough emphasis on is the discussion of race itself and how social systems are designed to upkeep racial divisions.
Instead, we have sought to popularize the concept of “Color-Blindness,” which posits that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of their race. It asks you to promote the individual, rather than a social group.
At face value, the ideology of colorblindness seems to be worth its salt even in its idealism. Upon closer inspection however, the arguments for it quickly fall apart. How do we even begin to achieve a “post-racial” society without first dismantling the systems of oppression racial minorities are still subjected to?
Color-blindness is a frequently touted half-measure that is largely insufficient to heal racial wounds. It is akin to throwing a wet blanket over racism and pretending it does not exist. This perspective usually comes from those who lack awareness of their own racial and economic privilege. These are the ones who are usually out of touch with the everyday man. It is an ideology grounded in ignorance.
Not talking about race is never an ideal we should strive for. Instead, it will do us all some good to become more conscious of race and how our privilege can be stymieing the conversation on it. Color-blindness can also fall victim to the rejection and invalidation of cultural heritages and unique experiences. Race affects not only the perceptions one has when they look at you but also the opportunities that may be available to one throughout their lives. Suppression of race conversations can often leave people’s feelings of internalized racism to be exacerbated. With every mention of race, people become uncomfortable and the conversation is switched. Raw honest conversations are intrinsic to the healing of racial wounds. One cannot come without our active interest in the other. Relying on a color-blind approach that individualizes conflicts pertaining to race rather than addressing systemic discriminatory practices is not something that is in the best interests of racial minorities. But we knew this already, don’t we?
The truth is, racism has taught us to attribute certain social values to persons based on their physical characteristics. Colorblind ideology is one that effectively helps to reinforce the existing systems of inequality while appearing as if they are dismantling them. Things such as institutional racism and discrimination are disregarded as concepts and replaced by statements of equal opportunity. Effectively, the privileged touting arguments for color-blindness continue benefiting from systems of oppression that validate them, yet tout themselves as progressive. We must reject this. We must reject those who tout it- particularly if they have no interest in seeing the limits of their viewpoints.
When marginalized stories are suppressed, it is not the discriminated against who benefit, but rather those who are already profiting from a system built on the back of racial and ethnic oppression. What this ideology does is allow the privileged to comfortably tell themselves that their successful socio-economic status in relation to minorities is through their individual work, savings and educational attainment. This removes any suggestion of racial supremacy while simultaneously legitimizing the structures that surround it.
Being blind to dominant social realities is not the same as being fair. Let us take a look at the example of “Lady Justice,” who is often symbolized as being blindfolded. The blindfold is used to symbolize the long aimed for impartiality of the justice system that pursues justice regardless of one’s racial, social, and economical and class status. Yet, there are a disproportionate number of poor, black people languishing in the prison system while their rich, racially acceptable Indo counterparts are allowed avenues to avoid justice.
The privileged have the benefit of promotion of the individual because they live in a society that validates them. Racism is a powerful social system based upon economic interests, so of course it is easy for the rich to tell you that economic factors and skin color are not factors in your systematically hindered progression. It is easy for us to quote statistics on the racial economic disparities in education, economics, health and the prison system but no one ever really wants to talk about the racial experiences that contribute to the statistics.
We can’t put a muzzle on race conversations because it is uncomfortable, we need to create an environment where these stories are heard and addressed. If you can’t find such an environment then create it and encourage others to create it too. While it is good to strive for ideals, it is not always the best strategy even if you feel that you are not contributing to the inequality. Refusing to talk about a powerful social reality does not make it disappear and I may be wrong but whenever I hear the narrative that race no longer matters, I automatically think they are saying that minorities now have equal rights, treatment and opportunities when that is not the case.
Racial inequality is upheld in basically every social strata and sphere. From segregation to biased hiring and loan approval practices- discrimination persists. Color-blindness does nothing but protect people from ‘having to have difficult conversations about race. If our goal is a future in which the long strived for equality is seen, our solutions should not seek to erase powerful social realities that affect our everyday lives. If you cannot see the privilege intrinsic in color-blind approaches, it might be time evaluate the ways in which you are stymieing the conversations on race.
Let us strive to see the beauty in color. Let us strive to address the inequalities amongst the colored. Pretending it does not exist is not an option- unless of course you are actually color-blind.